There are a few reasons you might not be familiar with Oscar Isaac, my salt and pepper-haired Guatemalan king.
- You’ve never heard of a Star War
- You think the Coen Brothers are a pair of fools
- You despise happiness, and insist on living a joyless existence
This is a non-exhaustive list, but in case you do happen to fall into any of the above categories, I’m here to help.
Oscar Isaac is astounding in his breakthrough role as the titular Llewyn of Inside Llewyn Davis. He is cold, intense and calculated opposite Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year, a film in which he also wears every turtleneck ever made and a sensible mustard-colored trench. He is a bona fide hero in his roguish portrayal of Poe Dameron in the newest Star Wars installations that also proves that he can conjure up chemistry with any scene partner: man, woman, droid, inanimate object, it does not matter. That’s movie magic! However, I often feel compelled to argue that Oscar Isaac is at his very best in the 2014 film that could: Ex Machina.
If you have yet to watch the sci-fi psychological thriller featuring my beloved Oscar alongside Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander, it’s never too late to do the right thing. It’s worth at least a million viewings and, in my clearly unbiased opinion, should have garnered more awards attention (#GetOscarAnOscar). This directorial debut from Alex Garland tells the story of Caleb (Gleeson), an anxious programmer at a massive Apple-esque company who wins the chance to spend a week with the company’s mysterious CEO, Nathan (Isaac). Nathan has developed an incredibly advanced humanoid and Caleb’s task for the week is to perform the Turing test on the robot, Ava (Vikander). Caleb grows increasingly attached to Ava, Nathan grows increasingly unhinged, and we as audience members grow increasingly attuned to the omnipresent sense of dread.
In a genuinely frightening movie full of startling moments (that wardrobe bit — if you know, you know), there is one glorious scene that truly stands out — the absurd, surreal disco dance sequence. I think about the disco dance sequence constantly. This scene crosses my mind at least once a week. This scene is both a nightmare and a distillation of pure delight.
At this point in the film, Nathan and Caleb have grown extremely wary of each other, Caleb’s suspicion fueled by Ava’s whispered insistence that Nathan is not a good man. Caleb is near a mental breaking point when the film rapidly shifts gears — Oliver Cheatham’s “Get Down Saturday Night” starts blaring with disco lighting silhouetting Nathan and his silent, serious servant, Kyoko (a wonderful Sonoya Mizuno). Without hesitation, the two begin to dance in hypnotic, robotic (!!) coordination.
The scene is transcendent, scary, and funny for quite a few reasons, but I think I love it most of all because this dance is clearly a PRE-CHOREOGRAPHED ROUTINE! Nathan loves a flair for theatrical drama! When did they have time to put this together? Do they rehearse every now and then, just to keep things sharp? I have just as many questions as Caleb, who is standing, shocked, with his mouth agape. Additionally, while I can’t relate to Turing tests, advanced humanoid robotic technology, or the feeling of being trapped in a house with Oscar Isaac, I can relate to the fact that Nathan physically dances away from his problems. Things have gotten so tense with Caleb that he turns on some music and discos off. We’ve all been there.
“You tore up her picture!” Caleb yells, referring to a creation of Ava’s. “I’m about to tear up the dance floor,” Nathan yells back. It is worth noting that Ex Machina earned a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and I like to believe that this exact exchange of dialogue is what locked it into the category. I have no evidence to back up this statement but I will hold it in my heart nonetheless.
Last and certainly not least: the detail that pushes the perfection of this scene over the edge is Oscar Isaac’s wardrobe. Shout-out to the costume assistant that insisted his sweatshirt be barely zipped at all, at risk of falling off at any given moment. Give them a retroactive raise! The surprises continue as the dance continues because the scene just… ends. No denouement, no warning, just a silent cutaway to Nathan stumbling down the hallway. (At this point, it is also worth mentioning that the sweatshirt has become fully unzipped. That aforementioned costume assistant should be making six figures!) In the grand scope of the film, this scene appears without warning and vanishes just as suddenly and feels a bit like a fever dream once it has passed.
This sequence has become hardwired to my brain and remains noteworthy despite the fact that there are so many other moments in Oscar Isaac’s filmography that could take its place: the found-footage in Annihilation is more graphic and shocking; the scene in The Last Jedi in which Carrie Fisher slaps him across the face is just as memorable; he chases his scrappy cat down a subway car in Inside Llewyn Davis! Yet nothing will top the disco moment, a moment that could have lost its edge in the hands of a less capable actor. I’m certain I’ll revisit Ex Machina time and time again, as I consider it to be a sterling example of sci-fi being the perfect medium to explore themes of feminism and the overall human condition, but forget that noise: have you heard about the scene where Oscar Isaac dances?